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Conservatives and Confederate History Month

I've been trying to find the language to talk about Bob McDonnell's Confederate History Month Proclamation and what it means.  I don't for a second think that McDonnell was being racist or intended to stoke or profit from racism, but I do think he was trying to play an identity politics game and got caught.  My read is that the Proclamation was designed to make white Virginians with roots in the mid-1800s and earlier feel good about their ancestors.  The problem was that the history Proclamation, in the interest of constituency group flattery, left out too much history that was too important.

McDonnell recovered well and manfully but the original Proclamation showed obstacles for conservatives in making sustained gains among African Americans.  One problem is the tendency not to look at how statements look through the lens of African American experience.  It is a habit of mind to ask oneself "How would this statement sound to someone whose family history (or if not of their own family history, that of the majority of the group they affiliate with) includes slavery and Jim Crow."  A second problem is having to navigate the tensions between constituencies that might have overlapping policy preferences, but deeply felt differences about history and identity.  Most white Virginians with roots in the mid-1800s or earlier might see the Confederacy and Confederate soldiers one way, and most African Americans another way.  This disagreement about the past (which is about justice and honor among other things) can, if kindled, become much more salient than any agreement the two groups might have about abortion or taxes. 

So what can we conservatives do?  I think that the first step is to come up with an interpretation and rhetoric that accommodates what is true in both narratives.  Many Confederate soldiers did feel themselves to be fighting for their homes and families and not for slavery as such.  Slavery was (as McDonnell told us) the cause of the war.  The Confederacy was an attempt to preserve chattel slavery and it is a blessing that the institution was destroyed and our nation preserved.  Such an answer will not satisfy everyone, but it might satisfy enough to get people talking about shared principles and the issues of the day, and have the added virtue of being true.  When one combines McDonnell's original Proclamation with his apology, one can perhaps see an outline of what such a rhetoric might look like. Though maybe, if he had it to do over again, McDonnell would not have issued the Proclamation in the first place.  But even if he hadn't issued the Proclamation, issues of this sort could well come up unbidden. 


Categories > Politics

Discussions - 32 Comments

As someone who currently resides in Virginia (but not born here as locals are quick to point out), I am surprised by the moves of McDonnell and Cuccinelli, both of whom I am generally a big supporter of. They were elected in large part because of the dissatisfaction with big government. With so much of our history in Virginia rooted in the Founding Fathers, that would have been a great way to appeal to both the heritage of the state, America's founding principles, and the principles of liberty and self-government. Why they didn't have enough foresight to see the reaction against this and the damage it would do to their cause is beyond me.

Read the original proclamation quickly. Does it jump out at you as wrong, seriously flawed? If you're thinking of it in the context of "this has been presented by a cultural/interest group who seem friendly to me and well-liked by many in my base," in the manner that a liberal CA governor looks over a non-binding run-of-the-mill statement about the general principles of conservation submitted to him by the Sierra Club, then might it not seem innocuous? Particularly if you're NOT paying much attention, but rather regard the thing as one of those ceremonial and rather dull portions of the job?

1.) Who drafted the language?

2.) Did the governor even read it?

3.) Did the governor take more than 30 seconds to read over it?

Of course, words matter, symbolism matters, carelessness counts, "what Pete said" about neglecting to try read this through black lenses, and we all know where the buck stops on this one. McDonnell blew it. He made a reassuring recovery, but the initial evidence of poor and careless judgment, of instinctual blind-spots, remains part of his record. I'm simply trying to indicate, as I do with Obama and others with similar screw-ups, why the screw-up might be particularly understandable.

Carl, I agree with everything you say. I thought the original draft was designed to not be offensive within the limitations of not mentioning slavery and it was presented in a low key way (I think it was posted on the web rather than in a speech or something) so as to limit the chances of drawing objections.

I don't think that the problem is McDonnell. I think the problem is a combination of questions of honor, justice and coalitional politics that could injure the center-right going forward. Even if McDonnell had never issued the Proclamation, such issues would still arise - over things like the Confederate flag, monuments to Confederate soldiers, whatever. And answers that would satisfy both groups would not be obvious.

If the Republicans ever start making real gains among African Americans, I would expect the Democrats to emphasize these kinds of historical and identity politics as wedge issues in order to try to get to choose between African Americans and white Southernors as constituencies. I think McDonnell is both a smart and shrewd guy. The fact that he ran afoul of this issue doesn't tell me that he is clumsy. It tells me that it is a tough issue that requires statesmanship, prudence and a rhetoric that I'm not sure exists yet.

Isn't it time for the GOP (and the Right) to give up on blacks? They've been in the tank for the Democrats well above 90% for a very long time. That's a write-off, folks. Far better to please your base (FYI, that's white suburban folks who 1) work for a living, and 2) pay taxes).

Indeed, these foolish policies of appeasement and open borders are coming to a tipping point. Very, very soon now, it will no longer be possible to elect conservatives to national office. We've already lost California; the whole country in on the brink.

I'm sorry if such identity politics offends the academic Right (all 2 of you). That's what wins elections, for the most part.

Redwald, no.

Redwald must be a Democratic prankster.

Pete, is there an honest rhetoric that could appeal to the two sides capable of offense on this? Why assume one awaits in the wings?

If there isn't, then the thing for Republicans to consistently do is to let the black activists who want to revisit the offense make the first move. McDonnell in essence let the Confederate-heritage guys get him to make the first move. His was the neck stuck out there. He was the one framed as pronouncing on this "for political gain." It was not the case of a liberal or black politician wanting to make a splash by upsetting everyone with a call to remove a statue or such.

It's no political loss if behind the scenes the Confederacy-apologist types, who are only part of the more amorphous group who want to honor Civil War-heritage in a manner respectful to white Southern sensibilities, (i.e., respectful enough to mention, as one point of view among several, the version of the War taught them by their parents and grandparents) wind up grousing about McDonnell caving to the "politically correct version" of history.

Redwald, I remind you that Scott Brown won in MA. Things are not as hopeless as you paint them. I'm with you in opposing amnesty, BTW, but note that second-generation Mexican-Americans do not vote as loyally Dem as blacks do. And I do think we will never again see 90-95% of blacks in the tank for the Dems. A lot is going to become unstable for black politics as their leaders molded in the 60s, 70s, and 80s fade away. The mainstream black notion of what is necessary for black political identity could fall apart far more rapidly than we think, given its rather forced ideocratic (think: Soviet) structure; granted, it might remain locked in place.

But in any case, first principles and history simply cannot be ignored by the GOP. Nullification was/is a bad idea. Secession was/is a worse one. The Civil War was primarily caused by disputes about slavery. Lincoln was the founding Republican, and his principles remain far more important to Republicans today than Jefferson's do to the Dems.(DiLorenzo and co. are wrong) Yes, we can go on to talk about how noble a man Robert E. Lee was if someone wishes, we can be polite and understanding, and we can even go on to list the many virtues of the typical white Southerner today that outshine those of the typical white "Northerner," but no-one can ask the GOP to deny, or even to imply that we deny, those truths.

If Confederacy-apologists can win elections at the local and school-board level that allow them to issue their proclamations and what-not, well, that's their prerogative. The GOP can defend local liberty on this and on Creationist courses, while nonetheless saying it's regrettable and discouraging/opposing state and national candidates who insist on making these stands a part of their politics.

Carl, I'm not sure one exists, but one might be crafted (though by someone smarter and more socially sensitive than me) that appeals to large fractions of both groups. Your last two paragraphs aren't a bad place to start, and your 2nd and 3rd paragraph contains some prudent political advice. Part of it is that I think there are quite a lot of reasonable people on both sides. Lots of white Southerners want to be told that their ancestors weren't one dimensional monsters, that they did have some virtues not that slavery was okay, that the Confederacy was right or that the experience of African Americans should be edited out of popular memory of the Civil War. Many African Americans want to be reassured that political conservatism isn't white identity (or maybe white supremacy) politics by another name and that the African American historical experience is understood and integrated into the worldview of the conservatives who are seeking their votes. I think a rhetoric and historical narrative that satisfies both those desires can be crafted and be true to history. And then you better pivot to a shared series of principles and a policy agenda that is relevant to people's lives.

Such an approach won't satisfy everyone. There will be white Southerners(and not just Southerners) who will insist that slavery had nothing to do with anything and that the defeat of the Confederacy was a tragedy. There will be some African Americans who will not be comfortable in a coalition that includes the majority of white Southerners. But I can hope that such an approach might be part (and really only one part among many) of a politics that helps conservatives win over more nonwhites than they have lately.

No, I am no Democrat troll. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. You don't have to be some white-sheeted yahoo to understand that racial politics exist, and that white people are the only ones who aren't allowed to play this game. Enough!

A good analogy would be "peace through strength." If you really want black folks in the tent, you've got to stop wringing your hands and confront the central hypocrisy: people (ALL PEOPLE) tend to vote for their own perceived self-interests, even though we pretend not to. I'm happy to cater to black (or Hispanic or Asian) interests, so long as they coincide with MY interests. If not, as the gentleman from Texas said in another thread, "screw 'em."

Think of it as the beginning of a post-White-guilt era. High time.

Redwald, I don't think you are a Democratic troll. More is the pity. I would like to respond but there is little content there aside from the assertion and defense of the centrality of racialist politics. I am curious, what has anyone on this thread suggested that you find objectionable regarding incorporating the African American historical experience into popular memory of the Civil War (among other events)? What is it about an attempt to win over some African Americans based on what would otherwise be an orthodox conservative policy agenda (on taxes, abortion, health care, whatever) combined with the cultural and historical respect that a political party would naturally show a constituency group - and should be showing even if it were not a constituency group? White Southerners used to be a Democratic voting group, but Republicans (rightly) did not write them off. I don't expect similar gains among African Americans, but winning a third or forty percent would not be out of the question in the long term.

This isn't even getting into how a white racialist politics, given America's changing demographics (and the prevailing, and right, opinion of white racialism among whites), make the idea of a winning conservative politics based on white racialism a self-comforting and repugnant fantasy.

Pete, you are a wonder. You give moderation and prudence good names!

Pete and Steve, it's too bad that you can't see the forest for the trees. I am not a Southerner, but I understand how they feel. Over a century of being told how stupid and wrong they were/are, and how they'd better give up on their own racial/cultural identity for the sake of inclusion and "Americanism" (whatever that is). All the while, other (competing) groups are using their own identities to erode that very same "Americanism." In a word, you boys are saps of the worst order, and you might as well cross the aisle and join the Progressives. Ultimately, your program and theirs share a compatibility.

As for the GOP not giving up on the South, what complete nonsense. LBJ and the Democrats gave up on the South, and the GOP moved into the vacuum. Do you really think that Reagan would have been elected without "racialist politics?" Or Obama? Or any politician? Give me a break.

Redwald, thats what I don't understand. No one on this thread has suggested that the white Southerners give up their identity, just that our popular memory take into account the African American experience - subject to to truth of course. There were real racist and racialist politicians in Reagan's time, but he wasn't one of them - which is not to defend everything that Reagan ever said of did. The sensitivity that Reagan showed to white Southerners wouldn't be a bad guide to the kind of sensitivity that conservatives should now show African Americans.

I'm sorry, but you are naive to think that ANY "narrative" that sheds any kind of positive light on old Southern culture is likely to meet with black approval (or even neutrality). So, my point is quite simple: Pandering to the African-American electorate requires the continued condemnation of white Southern identity. Unfortunately (from your point of view, at least), the heart and soul of conservative strength in this country is rooted in the white South. If you don't believe me, examine national politics over the last 40 years.

And, by the way, I've read that Scott Brown won in Mass. because of the white ethnic vote -- you know, people who are allowed to be proud of their own heritages. You can't get away from identity politics, so you'd better make peace with like-minded people, even if their ancestors did things you don't personally approve of.

For instance, would it be fair to disavow all the contributions of Athens because its democracy didn't extend to its sizeable slave population? Think on it.

Redwald, so I think we get to the point that some people would regard even basic honesty about the past regarding the African American experience in America as "pandering" to African Americans and "condemnation" (really "dishonoring") of white Southern identity - by for instance mentioning slavery in the Confederate History Month Proclamation. The rest (given demographic trends) is really just rationalization. The choice really is between expanding the center-right coalition or being a permanent minority. There are of course questions of justice too. It is just wrong to marginalize the African American historical experience in public memory and it should not be done, period. It is a political blight that African Americans and Southern whites who might share policy preferences should be divided based on race. And I think your assumption that any friendly reference to Southern white history would meet with "black" hostility is badly flawed. There are no doubt African Americans who are just as touchy about these things as you are (he said Lee's army had brave soldiers, we have been dishonored), but I think that most African Americans can keep in their heads both that some Confederate soldiers fought bravely (while not dwelling on the point) and that slavery was a great evil that was well destroyed by the Civil War that saved our country. The same (with reverse emphasis) could be true of white Southerners. There will be objectors on both sides, demanding their own historical way. Some will say that this is "pandering" to African Americans. Some will say that this is making alliances with white racists. I can live with that.

As for Scott Brown. Brown did win large margins among whites (going by the pre-election PPP polls), but I doubt that many of the whites who voted for Brown were doing so in their capacities as Polish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans, whatever. I know I didn't. Also many of those white voters had voted for Obama in 2008 and many will probably vote for him again in 2012. Though even in Brown's victory, long term warning signs are visible. There was no exit poll, but my read of the preelection polls (which matched up pretty well with the final results) was that despite Brown being a good candidate and Coakley a lousy candidate, Brown lost by big margins among African Americans and Latinos. Brown won by cleaning up among white persuadables (who presumably were not thinking "Now which candidate best serves the interests of the white Serbian-American community?) that usually vote Democratic. Even if immigration stopped today, the size of the Latino electorate in Massachusetts will explode in the coming years. Scott Brown would have lost if the Senate election had been held in the demographic Massachusetts of 2020.

Pete, I'm sorry, your brand of politics is clearly popular on this website, but it's ostrich politics. You aren't facing realities about identity politics, not at all. And I guess there's nothing I can say that will change your mind. So be it.

As for "basic honesty" about the black experience in America, where have you been over the last four or five decades? We've gone way beyond honesty on this issue. Millions have milked this "experience" as a veritable bottomless fountain of grievance. On the other hand, white Southerners have experienced a real erosion of "public image." They even changed the narrative of the tour guides at Gettysburg a few years ago. Man, you must be living in a hole.

The problem is, Northern "conservatives" filled a power vacuum in Southern politics, but they haven't been able to really "digest" Southern populism. We want their votes, but we want them to shut up already. Same problem with Right to Lifers -- pull the switch, but don't expect any real change.

As for becoming a "minority party," welcome to the 21st Century, Pete! It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, your logic if faulty. Just because a group engages in identity politics doesn't mean they can't ally with other similarly-constituted groups. Current policies are suicidal when it comes to demographics and politics, however, and I don't see someone with your attitudes solving the problem. At best, conservatives of your stripe will "manage decline."

Redwald, once again, I'm not sure how to respond, because I only see assertion of racialist politics. As for basic honesty, a Confederate History Month Proclamation that is designed to encourage the study of history, but excludes mention of slavery is problematic. you don't have to take the word of me or anyone on this website. Governor McDonnell would glady tell you. In fact, he told everyone in his second comment. The other stuff about resenting how the incorporation of the African American historical experience has gone "beyond honesty"" and the assertion that "we" want Southernors to shut up all come from someplace I don't understand. Probably those statements would be fair comments when directed at somebody. What has anyone said on this thread that would indicate such a thing? What is it about the idea that both the African American and white Southern experiences of the past should be incorporated into our public memory (subject to the test of the truth of course) that you find so irritating, scary and shameful? What is it about conservative treating African Americans with the same respect that they would treat any other large consituency that they were pursuing that bothers you so much?

I am commenting on the state of society rather than to any specific statement made on this blog. In general, I found your statements, which might be considered reasonable in a vacuum, to be unreasonable given the last three or four decades of political history.

There is absolutely no chance that slavery will be forgotten or condoned in any way. On the other hand, the positive contributions of the South, or their courage in their fight for independence (which, despite what you say, was not simply about slavery -- please read some social history), has been the subject of an unrelenting campaign of disparagement and slander. Govt. McDonnell's initiative, if such it is, is pretty lame stuff given what has come to pass in this country.

If any other group of people had been treated this way we'd have a Federal Commission look into it! You have to understand that Southerners are the "props" of the self-righteous Right and the multicultural Left. They are whipping boys, chronically mocked in the media, and reminded at every turn about their role in racial oppression. My God, we treat the Germans with more respect!

Redwald, I remind you of a bit of what I said above: "we can even go on to list the many virtues of the typical white Southerner today that outshine those of the typical white "Northerner."" For the last two years I've been teaching at a Southern men's college, Hampden-Sydney College, and I am quite serious about the greater virtues of the typical southern white than the typical northern white.

Yes, there are some students at H-SC that sport Confederate flags on their caps or trucks, and others that resist the Lincolnian interpretation of the war and its primary causes. For some, it's a symbol of Confederacy Apology simply (which usually excuses segregation as well) , for a greater group, it's more a symbol of regional pride and of "don't back me into a corner and demand that I parrot your Northern PC views," and for some, it's primarily a symbol that says "I'm an ornery sonofabitch rebel you'd better not mess with."

Conservatives and the Republican party musn't back anyone into a corner with a correct catechism of history in detail, but again, they cannot deny nor pretend to deny their basic principles. And that creates some unavoidable tension with respect to the War and the policy of segregation. But it can be handled one influenced by P. Lawler, I'd say a look at Walker Percy's thoughts on these subjects can certainly help.

Did I mention we have a sizable group of black students at H-SC? And now a black president so far pretty popular with everyone?

Oops, that anonymous yankee guy, who criticizes white Southerners a whole hell of a lot less than he does Germans, is me.

Redwald, funny, but I thought I made what was reasonable in your second paragraph (that many white Southerners perceived themselves to be fighting for home and family) in my original post - thought the point can be made without seeking to edit slavery out of the story. You can't seem to get out of the way of your own resentments. There are obviously people who will seek to turn any discussion of the past into a game of competitive victimology and exclaim that whatever the other side has gotten is much too much. I'm okay with leaving such people on both sides to gnaw on each other.

The South had felt a separation for a very long time. The elites of the North (then as now) have had a habit of belittling their Southern neighbors. If you'll read historians like Gary Gallagher you'd find out that the South felt the call of nationhood -- slavery was only a small part of what made them think of themselves as distinct and in need of independence.

But no, keeping thinking that a tiny handful of huge plantation owners decided the fate of millions. That's a abolitionist myth, and wasn't ever accurate. The unanimity with which the deep South seceded belies any (neo-Marxian) notion that slavocrats were running the show. The massive casualties sustained by non-slave holders (massive in a way seldom seen in history) belies the notion that they were dupes working for King Cotton.

Again, I encourage you to read some serious social history about the South. The more we learn, the more we realize that, peculiar institution and all, the South was a complex society that probably didn't deserve the Civil War or Reconstruction (what a misnomer).

And if you say that ending slavery was worth trampling Southern independence, then all you're really saying is that the end justifies the means. Our government has been doing just that ever since, and look at the mess we are in!

As for "competitive victimology" (a nice turn of phrase, btw), I think "defensive victimology" is more apt for "neo-Confederate sympathizers." Just as men have had to tolerate 40 years of non-stop criticism from feministas, Southerners have been forced to participate in their own humiliation non-stop for the last century and a half. For over a century they were essentially a conquered, colonized region of the country, and since getting back of their feet they've been subjected to "Roots" and "Mandingo" and thousands of other tawdry bits of propaganda.

What am I arguing for? A little historical balance. There is no real need for conservatives to venerate Lincoln and vilify the South, nor is it necessary to shout "SLAVERY" every time a group of Southerners wants to commemorate their history as a people (which is what your thread did). If the shoe fits....

So the neoconfederatism of it all comes out. Your neoconfederatism shouldn't be confused with the confederatism of the Civil War era. Give the real Confederates credit for understanding the role of slavery in secession as in Georgia and Mississippi and of course the famous Cornerstone speech by the confederate Vice President

We are now talking about the historically indefensible post-Civil War mythology of "slavery had nothing to do with it except as a hypocritical pretext for war by a brutal North when all we wanted was an independent nation-state" and contemproary confederates are the best witnesses It is worth remembering that McDonnell changed his Proclamation partly due to the objection of Southerners. Some of those objectors were African American Virginians who are as Southern as anybody and as American as you. You don't even see the irony that McDonnell's amended Proclamation was a better example of " Southerners" commemorating "their history as a people" rather than "writing off" African Americans as having gotten more than their historical due.

There will be a fraction of the public (by no means all southern, and probably driven more by marginal ideology that regional pride) that will be disgusted by any recounting of the Civil War era that includes any facts Ben Tillman would have found inconvenient, will seek to minimize the role of slavery in the South and to marginalize the historical experience of African Americans - though perhaps with less silly arguments than resentful references to "Roots."

Good for Bob McDonnell (who is Southern, conservative, Republican and gets it), good for every Republican, and every conservative who won't indulge in Redemption-era mythologizing and racial resentment.

A very shallow reading on your part. If you read it carefully, the "core" States of the initial Confederacy were objecting to the North's attitude (and aggressive behavior) towards slavery, not slavery per se. Indeed, Southerners felt that the North was flagrantly disobeying the Constitution by aggressively resisting slavery in new States and in failure to repatriate fugitive slaves. I wonder how you would feel if some region of our country decided that YOUR wealth was illegitimate and in need of elimination.

This may seem a overly-fine point to you, but in fact the South wasn't afraid of abolition. Have you ever heard of the Corwin Amendment (which passed both Federal legislatures, and was endorsed by Lincoln)? The North willingly sacrificed the slavery issue to retain the Union (so much for self-righteousness). While I think you MIGHT plausibly argue that SECESSION was about slavery for some of the cotton States (although that's a distortion), there is no way to argue that the WAR was about slavery. It most definitely was not, at least until Lincoln had to justify the carnage.

I might also add that the border States clearly left the Union because of Lincoln's aggression and call for troops. It's a matter of record. Even Texas notes in it's Declaration of Secession that it has no real choice -- joined at the hip with other Southern States, not seceding would geographically isolate it from the Union and alienate it from its true economic partners.

A lot more complicated than you let on.

As I've said, I am not a Southerner, nor am I a neo-Confederate. I do not desire the "reconstituted Confederate States of America."

These "rebels" were born and bred in a time when slavery was considered normal by the vast majority of the world's people. They felt attacked (illegally) by Northern interests and, increasingly, helpless in a political sense (just as their Revolutionary War forebearers had). Yes, slavery was (and is) an evil, but in some people's view so is owning a factory. Using governmental violence to correct such evils is always inherently dangerous and leads to many unforeseen consequences (such as a bloated, activist central government). Just sayin.

Yes, slavery was (and is) an evil, but in some people's view so is owning a factory. Using governmental violence to correct such evils is always inherently dangerous and leads to many unforeseen consequences (such as a bloated, activist central government" If a state sought to secede in order to escape the income tax (even though I don't consider the income tax evil per se) or to preserve sanctuary cities, I would still be for using force to prevent the country being ripped apart by local minorities as it would make democratic government impossible. It isn't just me. The seceding states agreed with me on this principle did not allow local antislavery, anti-secession majorities to go their own way - as Eastern Tennesseans from the 1860s would be glad to tell you. They knew that secession for me and thee and everybody else (especially the slaves of course, but also dissenting whites) would make democratic government, down to the local level absurd and not government at all. Where their own interests were concerned, they seemed willing to take the risk of a bloated centralized state versus the danger of breaking up any democratic state by the action of any constituent local majority. Which just shows that they were thinking more clearly than their later apologists

"the initial Confederacy were objecting to the North's attitude (and aggressive behavior) towards slavery, not slavery per se. Indeed, Southerners felt that the North was flagrantly disobeying the Constitution by aggressively resisting slavery in new States and in failure to repatriate fugitive slaves" As for slavery in the territories, the North was upholding the interpretation of the federal government's policies that had attained not only since the Constitution, but since the Articles of Confederation up to Dred Scott. and anyway the North was resisting by a combination of the House of Reps not admitting new slave states and (eventually) the slow replacing of pro-Dred judges with anti-Dred judges by control of the elected branches through peaceful, democratic, and constitutional means. The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution was enforced, at bayonet point, by the federal government and the states that had the least to fear from a mass escape of runaway slaves (the southernmost states in which slaves would have to travel farthest to enter a free state) were the first to secede. If they seceded because of hurt feelings (which I don't for a second believe, they felt a crucial interest becoming increasingly politically isolated in the current system without new slave states and they said so throughout the 1850s), it would be laughable. But I have more respect for their seriousness of purpose than to believe that.

I agree that the white South was not especially afraid of immediate abolition. They were afraid of the slow eroding of slavery through (among other things) the fostering of internal antislavery political forces through political patronage, changes in the Supreme Court, and eventually the addition of enough free states to make constitutional change regarding abolition - and Lincoln and the Confederates were probably equally clear that an "unamendable" amendment would stand up to future constitutional changes through amendment. That the initial states were so determined to preserve the very, very long term interests of slavery is testament to their sincere belief in the positive good theory of slavery and their willingness to tear apart the country to preserve slavery.

"I wonder how you would feel if some region of our country decided that YOUR wealth was illegitimate and in need of elimination" Well I don't own people but that is nothing to brag about. I just thank God that I live in a time and place when it is not a temptation. But if a section did decide my wealth (maybe comic books?) was illegitimate and went through constitutional means to ban it, I would respond through constitutional means I would hope. There would of course be limits at which point revolutionary violence would be justified (though not in defense of my comic books), but those were, for me, and for the revolutionary generation laid out in the Declaration, Madison's essay Notes On Nullification[email protected](jm090163))

and repeated by Andrew Jackson during the Nullification crisis. Great Southern men all.

"increasingly, helpless in a political sense (just as their Revolutionary War forbearers had)." that might be a tolerable but very understated description of the predicament of the slaves, but the denial of representation or denial of fundamental rights was not one of the problems for Southern whites when it came to the federal government (though Madison had advice about what to do if such a situation came up). Don't take my word for it, take the word of the Confederate Vice President, who made the same point. In fact, counting the arguments and facts of the 1860s secession against the standard set by the Declaration... it gets embarrassing. Which is okay actually. The secessionists of the1860s had a different view of human rights and a different view of the constitutionality of, and moral conditions for secession than did their forbearers as a survey of Jefferson, Madison and Jackson shows. But the principles of their forbearers, and the country their forbearers created survived anyway.

As a note, I find it odd that you don't notice the activist nature of the state that was required to maintain slavery (and which impacted whites as well if they, for instance wanted to teach a black person to read the Bible in certain states) which should inflame every freedom-loving Obamacare-hating instinct, - even if like Lincoln one knew that slavery and its protective apparatus was constitutionally protected under normal circumstances (even as one is constitutionally protected from arrest under normal circumstances , but that might change if one chooses to commit overt insurrection). One would think that one would be grateful for the preservation of our wonderful country, and the rights that allow you to use democratic politics to fight far lesser political evils than slavery.

just sayin.

First, the nation was constituted as a confederation of sovereign States. Neither North nor South was about to allow secession of sub-regional areas (unless it benefited them in some way, as did West Virginia). You keep confusing morality with legality. The Deep South was doing what it thought it had a legal right to do, under the original terms of the Union. The fact that it might have been "fair" to let Eastern Tennessee form it's own free State is beside the point.

Major political conflicts are rarely started for cool, calculated reasons. Particularly in a democracy, you have to get people stirred up to take drastic political actions. In the case of secession, the people themselves felt picked on, ostracized, vilified, mocked, and attacked (quite literally, given John Brown and some other instances). And this is still going on. I heard a comedian on Comedy Central just the other day say that Southerners were nasty, awful, stupid people who should be eliminated. His NYC audience applauded.

You really, really need to broaden your reading of the social history of Southern nationhood. Sure there were material interests involved, but that can't explain why the vast majority of the Southern people (who were NOT slave-owners) fought so long and so hard (and at such sacrifice, truly) for independence. Slavery was part and parcel of something that was much much bigger -- a national identity.

As for docilely accepting their political fate, that's nonsense. That's for sheep, and real Americans never do that. We didn't do that in the Revolutionary War, or in the Civil War, nor any time since. What you are really saying is that their interests would have been less and less represented, and that they should have been happy with this. Why, exactly? Why stay in a Union that is increasingly dedicated to destroying your way of life? Pete, what kind of conservative are you?

It's an important question because we are faced with the very same problem today. Our morality is routinely legislated away (or, more frequently, judged away). Our demographic strength is increasingly mitigated by out-of-control immigration. We have increasingly been turned into Federal milk-cows (only half the people pay Federal income tax -- guess which half, Pete). Our institutions (church, Boy Scouts, local communities) are unceasingly under attack. Essentially, we are being attacked by the same kind of radicals that confronted the South -- self-righteous activists who think they have the right to tell us how to live.

Slavery is dead and gone, and good riddance. But the tendency of activists to seize the machinery of government and use it to "transform" society is alive and well, and this tendency started with Lincoln. You see, we aren't really arguing about evils, but about cures. Sometimes the cure just isn't worth it, and that's all I've been arguing.

As for having my libertarian instincts enraged by the State-sponsored nature of slavery, I think you are missing my point. Using Federal power to eliminate State power is no solution. Indeed, libertarians rarely understand that it takes a powerful central government to guarantee "individual rights." Almost always, such individual rights are used to destroy organic arrangements that people build up over a number of years. State-sponsored slavery was wrong, of course, but it was the lesser of evils. We now have a government that dictates far more of our lives than is good or healthy, and increasingly this has been done so a tiny minority can enjoy its "individual rights."

As an afterword (because this thread will be archived soon), let me say that many people on this blog are actually just moderate progressives rather than conservatives. What is a progressive, after all, but someone who thinks that the machinery of government (i.e., coercion) should be used to reform/improve society? Conservatives also believe in change, but change that is not directed or instigated by government. In short, government should "lag" the people, reflecting their desires over a period of time. And like any compact, such governments can be dissolved. There is nothing sacred about government.

Surprisingly, many of the folks on this blog are the new "rebels." The contradiction is that you venerate the first progressive, Lincoln. The reason you folks always have these long, contentious Civil War threads should tell you something. There is a crack in your foundation.

"First, the nation was constituted as a confederation of sovereign States. Neither North nor South was about to allow secession of sub-regional areas (unless it benefited them in some way, as did West Virginia). You keep confusing morality with legality. The Deep South was doing what it thought it had a legal right to do, under the original terms of the Union." Funny, thats not what Madison thought on the legality of it all and the Father of the Constitution is a better guide on this point than John Calhoun (or radical New England Federalists) in the period after his presidential ambitions disintegrated. This case was of course repeated by Andrew Jackson - a better son of South Carolina. So much for the legal case for secession as it was understood by the Founders. The moral case as the Founders understood it was by defined by the Founders in the Declaration and elsewhere. The secessionists of the 1860s had a different theory of both the legal and moral grounds of secession and the confusion comes from conflating the two different sets of ideas. Your comment reflects this confusion. Can anyone imagine the Founders complaining about the comments of some play in Britain (or a hundred) as an example of the grounds for revolutionary secession?

As for why nonslaveholding white Southerners fought for the Confederacy. No doubt their motives were complex (as this post started with noting), but nonslaveholders had an interest in the maintenance of slavery in those places where slaves (with slavery organized along racial lines) made up a large fraction of the population and had reasonable fears of either social revolution or even mass violence if slavery were to end or even seem vulnerable. That was why nonslaveholding whites in South Carolina were more likely to be willing to fight for the permanent preservation of slavery than nonslaveholding whites in Delaware or Kentucky even though complaints about abolitionist agitation and slave escapes were most plausible in just those states. They had, even as nonslaveholders (and even slave owners) less unwanted social change to fear from the eventual end of slavery. Your understanding of the interests of nonslaveholders in the South (they were not slaveholders therefore they had no personal interest in slavery) is incredibly simplistic and takes no account of the tragic dilemmas that mass slavery sowed at every level of society.

"What you are really saying is that their interests would have been less and less represented, and that they should have been happy with this." Or they could have continued to conduct constitutional democratic politics under a regime where their basic rights were being protected. Its just a thought. And tying this mentality to the Revolution is sick and absurd. They did not revolt because American representatives would have been a minority in Parliament, but because they were not allowed representation in Parliament and Parliament claimed an absolute right to violate any right at any time. This might (in a very mild form) reflect the plight of the slaves, but in no sense reflects the plight of the white South prior to secession - as the conditional unionists were glad to remind their fellows.

"But the tendency of activists to seize the machinery of government and use it to "transform" society is alive and well, and this tendency started with Lincoln." That is ideological nonsense The use of government power to regulate slavery and race relations is certainly an example of "activists" using "government" to "transform" society (slavery itself changed due to stricter government rules that in some cases made it illegal to free slaves within a state, or teach slaves to read in other cases.) You are practicing some weird bookkeeping here.

"State-sponsored slavery was wrong, of course, but it was the lesser of evils. We now have a government that dictates far more of our lives than is good or healthy, and increasingly this has been done so a tiny minority can enjoy its "individual rights."" Putting aside how "state-sponsored slavery" regulated the lives of even the free, your point is based on a false choice. The choice was not between centralized intrusive government and freedom on one hand and slavery and limited government on the other. The governments of the slave states were, in relation to their citizens, profoundly centralized and unlimited as slaves and dissenting whites surely knew. The degree to which our own government is centralized and too intrusive is a problem for democratic constitutional politics, and appeals to secession, or to an imagined limited government (sure the government could enslave not just you and all your descendants, make it illegal for your owner to free you and illegal for you to learn to read, but at least they didn't force you to buy health insurance - voila! lesser evil) pre-Civil War world does not help us either understand or grapple with our politics.

Constitutional issues aside (for slavery is now clearly unconstitutional in ways that Obamacare's mandate is not - though it might well be under the same originalist grounds that would condemn the Dred Scott decision), there is something sick about describing the enslavement of 1/8 of the population as a lesser evil compared to whatever challenges we currently face. I suspect you might have a different attitude if you were one of, or able to place yourself within, that 1/8. One could of course talk about abortion, but whatever its prevalence, abortion seems to have been mostly legal (and to the extent banned, rarely prosecuted) before the Civil War so that hardly works either.

You know little of Southern history and even less of slavery. States centralize in times of war, which is what the South was forced to do for survival. At the inception of independence, the South was far less centralized, but as the war began to go badly the Confederate government was forced to become more centralized. There are books on this if you would care to read them.

Slavery was self-governing, for the most part. Southern States did not have the manpower to "control" the lives of most of its people. Indeed, "slave law" was fairly underdeveloped until the institution came under increasing attack and the South grew fearful of "abolitionist aggitators." Like most of what the South did in the way of government, it was defensive.

And was this self-government good? Well, if indices of black welfare are any indication, antebellum blacks were better off than their free counterparts a half century later, which was in part due to the North's "reconstruction." Yea, I know, you can't put a price on freedom. Whatever.

Hmm...James Madison. Is he the guy that said this (in Federalist 45): ""The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." How about another Founder, Thomas Jefferson, who said: "If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation ... to a continuance in the union .... I have no hesitation in saying, 'Let us separate.'"

Andy "By God" Jackson -- Constitutionalist. I would write more here, but I can't stop laughing. Talk to the Cherokee (or Andy's own Supreme Court) if you think he was a Constitution expert.

I don't think it's sick to prefer temporary slavery to half a million dead young men, the ruination/colonization of a whole region of the country, and a monstrous centralization of government with the gravity of a black hole.

Your problem all along is that you are putting moral certitude ahead of reason. Very typical of humans, but it leads to political polarization and ultimately violence (as the Civil War clearly demonstrated).

Redwald, no doubt I am ignorant of lots of stuff, but the trajectory of the radicalization of slavery was pre-Civil War in nature as was the power of the states to enslave part or all of a state's population (it was used against blacks but could, in theory have been used against anybody.) The rote response of blaming abolitionists is no defense against the reality of slavery was profoundly statist and centralist - though it might make you feel better to hug a familiar all-purpose villain.

As for Madison: follow the link where he writes on the point in response the intellectual father of 1860s secessionism.

As for Jackson: In his letter on nullification Jackson reiterated both Madison on legal secession and Madison and Jefferson on the conditions of revolutionary secession.

"Yea, I know, you can't put a price on freedom. Whatever." On the contrary. When African Americans are involved, some are willing to put quite a low price on the freedom of others and the preservation of their country. Not that it stops them from complaining about the far lesser violations of freedom that they face.

"Well, if indices of black welfare are any indication, antebellum blacks were better off than their free counterparts a half century later, which was in part due to the North's "reconstruction."" Your solicitude for the well being of African Americans during one of the low points of statist Jim Crow white supremacy is admirable. No , wait a minute, it isn't. It was to imply that African Americans were better off under slavery rather than to point out the routine violations of their rights as American citizens.

"I don't think it's sick to prefer temporary slavery to half a million dead young men, the ruination/colonization of a whole region of the country, and a monstrous centralization of government with the gravity of a black hole." What is of merit in this complaint is best addressed to those who tried to dismember our country in defense of the permanence of slavery. Though some of it is also based on Redemption-era mythology used to justify white supremacy and the denial of constitutional rights of African Americans. And by your own standards, I don't know what you are complaining about. By every measure, you are better than a pre-Civil War slave. Price of freedom and all that.

You are so very right that passion can overcome reason. It can lead to distorting the Founder's understanding of the government formed under the Constitution and the moral basis for revolutionary secession in order to defend slavery. It can lead to trying to find any excuse for the dismemberment of the country ( I heard a comedian....) and for weighing the violations of the rights of other groups cheaply when one is not trying to find excuses to avoid mentioning them. Sometimes it does lead to political violence and tragedy. So let us thank God, that in our time, it leads to political marginality.

Ultimately, there really isn't much to your argument. Was secession legal? Most of the people at the time (including most Northern newspapers) thought so. New England had thought so in the antebellum period. The Constitution says nothing about it, but it does say that powers not delineated therein are reserved to the States. You don't have a leg to stand on, and neither did Lincoln (except brute force, of course).

As for slavery violating the rights of "citizens," slaves were not considered such until after the Civil War. Here again we see you applying modern morality to historical sensibilities. That's a poor thing for a teacher to do. And as for "Jim Crow," once you understand what the North did to the South politically after the war, it becomes understandable how Southerners would begin to protect themselves. Moreover, Northern self-righteousness isn't warranted. A bit later in history, during the great black migration to the North, the whites of the North invented the "black ghetto," which has got Jim Crow beat by a mile. Racism knows no sectional boundary.

And as for "dismembering" the country, that will happen eventually. As I've said, once a government ceases to represent the interests of its people, the clock begins to tick. It's been ticking for the U.S. for over a hundred years now. I think it will last a while longer yet, but eventually those who pay the bills (and created the damned country in the first place) will have to reevaluate the experiment. It's badly off track.

As for people with your intellectual orientation, you need to realize that the South is the only hope for you, warts and all.

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